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Thousands protest in Romania over kidnapped 15-year-old girl

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BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Thousands of Romanians protested against the government on Saturday, outraged by authorities’ slow response to emergency calls from a kidnapped 15-year-old girl now presumed dead.

Alexandra Macesanu called the European emergency number 112 three times, saying she had been kidnapped by a man while hitchhiking to her home village from the nearby southern town of Caracal.

It took authorities 19 hours to locate and enter the premises where she was believed to be held, where they found what appeared to be human remains and jewellery.

An estimated 2,000 protesters marched in downtown Bucharest on Saturday evening to protest the way authorities have handled the case, carrying banners saying “Corruption kills,” “Their blood is on your hands” and “Romania is being killed.”

They later laid flowers and candles outside the interior ministry. Organisers said in a statement the protest was “against the indifference of those in power, their incompetence and lack of empathy.”

Smaller protests took place in other cities across Romania.

Police suspect the remains they found belong to the 15-year-old Macesanu and to an 18-year-old girl from a nearby village who was reported missing in April, but forensics analysts have yet to confirm their identity.

On Saturday, suspect Gheorghe Dinca, a 65-year-old mechanic, was detained for 30 days pending a criminal investigation.

Romania’s police chief and two county officials were fired late on Friday. On Saturday, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said she was considering calling a referendum to introduce harsher sentences for rapists, paedophiles and murderers.

Since taking power in late 2016, Dancila’s ruling Social Democrats have changed judicial legislation via government emergency decrees or through parliament without much public debate, chipping away at judicial independence and prompting criticism from the European Union and diplomats.

Amendments to judicial legislation and pending changes to the criminal code “have favoured people convicted for corruption,” a professional association of judges said in a statement on Saturday.

The changes “weakened rule of law by depriving criminal investigators of the technical and legal instruments essential for their job, endangering the lives and safety of all Romanians,” they added.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Richard Chang)

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